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Online Social Media (OSM) have been substantially transforming the process of spreading news, improving its speed, and reducing barriers toward reaching out to a broad audience. However, OSM are very limited in providing mechanisms to check the credibility of news propagated through their structure. The majority of studies on automatic fake news detection are restricted to English documents, with few works evaluating other languages, and none comparing language-independent characteristics. Moreover, the spreading of deceptive news tends to be a worldwide problem; therefore, this work evaluates textual features that are not tied to a specific language when describing textual data for detecting news. Corpora of news written in American English, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish were explored to study complexity, stylometric, and psychological text features. The extracted features support the detection of fake, legitimate, and satirical news. We compared four machine learning algorithms (k-Nearest Neighbors (k-NN), Support Vector Machine (SVM), Random Forest (RF), and Extreme Gradient Boosting (XGB)) to induce the detection model. Results show our proposed language-independent features are successful in describing fake, satirical, and legitimate news across three different languages, with an average detection accuracy of 85.3% with RF.
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future internet
Article
Language-Independent Fake News Detection:
English, Portuguese, and Spanish Mutual Features
Hugo Queiroz Abonizio 1,† , Janaina Ignacio de Morais 1,†, Gabriel Marques Tavares 2,†
and Sylvio Barbon Junior 1,*,†
1State University of Londrina (UEL), 86057-970 Londrina, Brazil; hugo.abonizio@uel.br (H.Q.A.);
janainam@uel.br (J.I.d.M.)
2Università degli Studi di Milano (UNIMI), 20122 Milan, Italy; gabriel.tavares@unimi.it
*Correspondence: barbon@uel.br
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Received: 31 March 2020; Accepted: 2 May 2020; Published: 11 May 2020


Abstract:
Online Social Media (OSM) have been substantially transforming the process of spreading
news, improving its speed, and reducing barriers toward reaching out to a broad audience. However,
OSM are very limited in providing mechanisms to check the credibility of news propagated through
their structure. The majority of studies on automatic fake news detection are restricted to English
documents, with few works evaluating other languages, and none comparing language-independent
characteristics. Moreover, the spreading of deceptive news tends to be a worldwide problem;
therefore, this work evaluates textual features that are not tied to a specific language when describing
textual data for detecting news. Corpora of news written in American English, Brazilian Portuguese,
and Spanish were explored to study complexity, stylometric, and psychological text features.
The extracted features support the detection of fake, legitimate, and satirical news. We compared four
machine learning algorithms (k-Nearest Neighbors (k-NN), Support Vector Machine (SVM), Random
Forest (RF), and Extreme Gradient Boosting (XGB)) to induce the detection model. Results show our
proposed language-independent features are successful in describing fake, satirical, and legitimate
news across three different languages, with an average detection accuracy of 85.3% with RF.
Keywords: fake news; text classification; multi-language; stylometry; machine learning
1. Introduction
The way to deliver and consume information has changed significantly today. Internet access
has become more democratic and fast, paving the way to spreading the news around the world
in seconds. In 2017, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) published a survey
(https://biblioteca.ibge.gov.br/visualizacao/livros/liv101631_informativo.pdf) regarding the use of
the Internet by Brazilians, of which 95.5% access the global network to send and receive messages
through Online Social Media (OSM). Furthermore, a survey (https://www.statista.com/chart/15355/
social-media-users) by Statista indicates that, until 2021, more than one-third of the globe will be
connected via OSM, showing how access to information will become available and affordable in
the future.
In recent years, OSM grew into one of the most popular communication technologies for various
types of personal relationships [
1
,
2
]. Most people expose their opinions, talk to loved ones, and share
professional information and news about the world [
1
,
3
]. Thus, it is common to quickly find
accurate opinions on the same subject, which enables an increase of critical and abstract thinking on
current issues.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87; doi:10.3390/fi12050087 www.mdpi.com/journal/futureinternet
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 2 of 18
Traditionally, news was disseminated by influential newspapers and television media only. Today,
however, news articles can be written and spread by anyone with access to the Internet. Moreover,
OSM promote channels that do not have editorial norms nor content review, which can be a problem
since some people might suffer from a lack of critical analysis of news [4].
Shao et al. [
5
] highlighted as a natural human behavior the absence of concern in verifying
the credibility of most of the information given in blogs and virtual encyclopedias, and the natural
tendency to believe in the content shared. For example, the 2016 American elections were pervaded by
the massive dissemination of information through OSM, which biased the voting decisiin Reference [
6
].
However, not all information was confirmed and verified, which brings us to one of the most severe
current issues, the fake news.
Fake news is similar in appearance to legitimate news [
7
] but refers to news articles created to
deceive the reader, either for the author benefit or that of a third party, generally involving monetary
gain Reference [
6
]. Shu et al. [
8
] define the fake news detection problem as a function
F(a)
, where
F
is a prediction function and
a
is a news article. Given a news article
a
, which is described by the
Publish and Content set of attributes,
F
predicts if
a
is a fake news piece or not. Although this approach
defines fake news detection as a binary classification, other works have addressed several types of
fake news [911].
Rubin et al. [
9
] describe three types of fake news: serious fabrications, which are deliberate
fraudulent reports, large-scale hoaxes, which is another type of falsification that may be mistakenly
validated by traditional media, and humorous fakes, where readers are aware of the humorous
intent. Salas-Zárate et al. [
11
] explore the dichotomy between satirical and non-satirical news,
while Rubin et al. [
10
] develops a link between deception detection and computational satire, irony,
and humor detection.
Currently, several websites, like Sensacionalista (https://www.sensacionalista.com.br/),
Actualidad Panamericana (https://actualidadpanamericana.com/), and The Daily Discord
(http://www.dailydiscord.com/
), use humor to create satirical news related to some subject in an
exaggerated way, making clear to the reader that this information is not legitimate [
11
]. However,
satirical news can be shared on social networks or suspicious sites without its original context, hence
creating the possibility of deceiving the most distracted readers [10]. This happens because the satire
uses a format very similar to traditional journalism, which, leveraged by an out-of-context sharing, can
be confused as a real story [
11
]. Moreover, there are several specific strands of various languages that
compromise automatic detection, for example, misleading news containing partial truthful informatiin
Reference [
6
]. Therefore, it is not an easy task to identify whether a news article is fake, satirical,
or legitimate [11,12].
Approaches on fake news detection can be split into two categories [
8
]: social context-based
and content-based. The social context-based approaches usually analyze the propagation patterns
and the diffusion on social networks to identify deceptive content. The content-based approach can
be further divided into two types: knowledge-based, which uses knowledge databases to verify the
information; and style-based, which extracts writing style and linguistic features to detect deception.
The knowledge-based approaches often use public structured knowledge linked data, as described in
Conroy et al. [13].
Initially, social context-based solutions seem the most adherent to address the problem of fake
news spreading in a language-independent way. However, the requirements of meta-information
about the structure, path, and distribution pose several disadvantages to these solutions. Indeed,
the complexity demanded by this category to support suitable results paves the way to
content-based solutions.
In recent years, several content-based solutions have been proposed, mainly based on Natural
Language Processing (NLP) and Text Processing (Text Mining). From detecting fake news through a
pure NLP [
14
] classifier, to even distinguishing satire from fake news using social networks as seen in
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 3 of 18
Reference [
10
]. However, one important challenge of fake or satirical news detection is related to the
limitation of language-independent written features [15].
Most content-based works, mainly from linguistic approaches, are based on specific languages,
such as, English [
16
], Spanish [
11
], and Chinese [
17
]. For instance, Pilar et al. [
11
] analyzed satirical
news from the Twitter (https://twitter.com/) social network coming from two Spanish-speaking
countries: Mexico and Spain. Their goal was to find differences and linguistic similarities of news that
indicate sarcasm.
Meanwhile, in other NLP tasks, such as Sentiment Analysis, there is an effort to address the
challenge of a language-independent approach, as shown in Kincl et al. [
18
]. Thus, to the best of our
knowledge, there are no fake news detection techniques, nor satirical ones, that handle more than one
language, showcasing the lack of a general approach.
Therefore, the main goal of this work is to propose and compare language-independent features to
detect news considering three classes: fake, satirical, and legitimate. For that, we built a pipeline using
content-based premises to retrieve news style by extracting
Com plexity
,
Styl ometric
, and
Psychological
features in Brazilian Portuguese, American English, and Spanish textual data.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. In Section 2, we present a review of related
work, comparing their methods with the methodology being proposed in this paper. The methodology
of experiments is described in Section 3, detailing the source of the dataset, the extracted features,
and the Machine Learning (ML) algorithms employed. The results of the experiments are discussed in
Section 4, detailing the behavior of the most important features and the shared characteristics between
datasets. Finally, we conclude the paper in Section 5.
2. Definitions and Related Work
Recently, there has been an increasing amount of literature on fake news detection tasks. This
paper uses three categories for news articles: fake, legitimate, and satirical. The formal definitions
used in this work are extracted from Shu et al. [8]:
Definition 1
(Fake News)
.
Let a news article
A
, described by a tuple of two features:
authenticity
and
intent
.
A
is considered fake if the
authenticity
is verifiable false, and its
intent
is to mislead the reader, e.g., its content
is deceptive.
Definition 2
(Legitimate News)
.
Let a news article
A
, described by a tuple of two features:
authenticity
and
intent
.
A
is considered legitimate if the
authenticity
is verifiable
true
, and its
intent
is to convey authentic
information to the reader, e.g., its content is reliable.
Definition 3
(Satirical News)
.
Let a news article
A
, described by a tuple of two features:
authenticity
and
intent
.
A
is considered satirical if the
authenticity
is verifiable false, and its
intent
is entertainment-oriented
and reveals its deceptiveness to the consumers.
Several datasets have been proposed to serve as benchmarks. They vary in number of samples,
availability of content, and source languages, but there is still no consensus used by most papers
of the field. The LIAR dataset, proposed by Wang [
19
], contains more than 12,000 human-labeled
short statements with fine-grained gradations of truthfulness. However, this dataset composed by
short statements, making it difficult to use style-based approaches to identify deception as this type of
approach requires more content information. Thus, knowledge-based solutions are more fit in this
case. Hanselowski et al. [
20
] and The fake news Challenge [
21
] published datasets with a similar
proposal: given a claim, the system predicts if other statements are mainly agreeing or disagreeing
with it. Though such datasets have a considerable amount of samples, the task is beyond the scope
of the present study. To overcome this, we focused on datasets with complete news to classify
documents into one of the three categories being assessed in this work, selecting equivalent corpora
from different languages.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 4 of 18
Horne and Adali [
22
] assembled collected news written in English from different sources and made
the corpus publicly available. The authors use a classifier based on writing style features to identify the
document’s class. The set of features takes into account writing characteristics, such as the frequency
of grammatical classes and readability measures. However, many features are language-dependent,
which limits the method’s applicability. We use their proposed corpus in this work, but, due to the
low number of instances, it was complemented. The process of samples complementing is described
in Section 3.2.
Zhou et al. [
23
] explored possible patterns in fake news and its potential relationship to deception
and clickbait. For this, the authors proposed a model focused on the theory of detecting false news,
where a news story is investigated at the lexical, syntactic, and semantic levels, which differs from
approaches that focus on news content. The authors found that the proposed method can overcome
the state-of-the-art, in addition to allowing early detection of false news, even when there is some
limitation on the content. However, the results obtained did not consider possible divergences in
linguistic structures and did not address any language other than English.
Monteiro et al. [
24
] and Posadas-Durán et al. [
25
] developed and made publicly available,
respectively, the corpus Fake.Br, written in Portuguese, and FakeNewsCorpusSpanish, written in
Spanish. Both works proposed text classifiers that use textual features. However, some features used
on those works, such as Bag-of-Words, are language-dependent. Another difference between those
works and ours is that the former treats the problem as a binary classification (legitimate and fake),
while we treat as a multi-class problem (legitimate, fake, and satirical), understanding that satirical
news is a separate type of document.
Morais et al. [
26
] proposed a Decision Support System (DSS) based on a multi-label text
classification pipeline for news into two conceptual classes: objective/satirical and legitimate/fake.
For this, the authors used a Portuguese dataset collected from Brazilian sites and considered the stylistic
features from the news in DSS. As a result, news can be categorized as objective and legitimate, satirical
and fake, or any other combination of those two classes at the same time. Nonetheless, the work is
limited to a Portuguese dataset with features proposed and evaluated only on the Portuguese language
structure. Different from Reference [
26
], in this work, we considered different languages and evaluated
the extracted features in a language-independent setup.
Krishnan and Chen [
27
] and Sousa et al. [
28
] focused on identifying fake news spread directly
from social networks, specifically Twitter in those cases. The usage of Deep Learning (DL) methods is
also present on the field, where Rashkin et al. [
16
] applied a Long Short Term Memory (LSTM) model
to obtain gradual authenticity score of the news. However, DL methods usually depend on large
amounts of data to extract patterns. Therefore, traditional ML methods fit better on real scenarios,
where data availability is limited.
Gruppi et al. [
29
] collected datasets in two languages (Portuguese and English) and analyzed
the similarities in stylometry in both languages, based on the search for universal characteristics
that are independent of culture, or specific attributes to each language. The authors found that the
attributes of unreliable articles follow a similar pattern in both languages, suggesting the existence of
stylistic characteristics when separating reliable and unreliable articles in both languages. However,
the results were restricted to only two languages, not enough to conclude if stylometric patterns are
observed in multiple languages. In addition, the authors only inspect the reliability of the articles,
without necessarily verifying the veracity of the information or analyzing other characteristics, such as
satire. Guibon et al. [
30
] addressed a dataset composed of both French and English to distinguish
fake, trusted and satire contents, but, different from our proposal, their data representation remain
language-dependent, since it relies on specific languages pretraining methods like word vectors or
term frequencies.
Therefore, given the lack of study on fake news detection on languages other than English,
a comparison between different languages is one of the main contributions of this work. Moreover,
previous studies have evaluated only fake and legitimate news, while we leveraged a more broad
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 5 of 18
scenario by considering fake, legitimate, and satirical news. Instead of adhering to a corpus collected on
a single language, three corpora of distinct languages (English, Portuguese, and Spanish) were used to
conduct the experiments. The models were induced in each corpus, evaluated, and the most important
features were compared by analyzing the characteristics shared among languages. The features used
in this paper are carefully proposed and chosen to be language-independent, in order to test the same
set of features on different corpora idioms, increasing the applicability of our method.
3. Material and Methods
This section presents the proposed (i) text processing pipeline, (ii) language-independent features,
(iii) news collection process, and (iv) classification algorithms. For this study, we created a dataset
composed by news documents written in American English, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish to
evaluate the problem of fake news detection grounded on language-independent features. The features
were extracted from three corpora and had their importance evaluated in the detection task. Moreover,
the designed features model high-level structural text characteristics, rather than the specific words
contained in the text.
3.1. Text Processing Pipeline
Figure 1shows an overview of the pipeline composed of three steps: Preprocessing, Feature
Extraction, and Classification. The pipeline covers the handling of raw news until the detection
outcome. Considering a news article has different sources, the proposed features were carefully created
to avoid capturing metadata characteristics, e.g., the amount of spacing, web template, and specific
publisher style. It is important to highlight the feature vector is composed by our language-independent
proposed features together with traditional descriptors from fake news detection literature.
Cleaning Filtering Noise
Removal
1. Preprocessing 2. Feature Extraction
Complexity Stylometric Psychological
Feature Vector
3. Classification
Fake
Legitimate
Satirical Machine
Learning
Model
news Detection
Figure 1.
Overview of pipeline to detect news articles among fake, legitimate, and satirical using
language-independent features
In the first step, Preprocessing (1), a set of procedures are performed to eliminate unwanted
characteristics left by the data acquisition phase. The Cleaning phase converts all samples into
UTF-8 encoding format and removes non-textual characters, such as emojis and special characters.
This manipulation clears website metadata and leaves only news-related textual data. Then, in the
Filtering phase, small texts are filtered out from samples to avoid news that are too short. Such process
creates a homogeneity in text lengths, listed as a requirement for fake news detectiin Reference [
9
].
Lastly, the Noise Removal phase removes extra whitespaces, as well as normalizes quotes characters
and other collecting and processing related noise that are not related to the news content.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 6 of 18
After preprocessing the textual data, the news articles have their features computed in the Feature
Extraction (2) step. The proposed features are language-independent, i.e., they do not consider specific
terms from a language. Instead, the features focus on capturing high-level structures. This way,
the same set of features can be used in multi-language domains. To achieve this goal, we extracted
features from three categories, based on Horne and Adali [
22
] categorization: Complexity, Stylistic,
and Psychological.
Complexity-based features aim at capturing the overall intricacy of the news, both in the sentence
and word level. For that, we used metrics, such as average word size, words count per sentence,
and Type-Token Ratio. Stylistic features use NLP techniques to extract grammatical information from
each document, understanding its syntax and text style. Hence, part of speech (POS) tagger is used to
track different word style frequencies. Psychological features are mostly related to cognitive processes.
For that, we evaluated sentiment polarity [
31
], which measures the negativity or positivity of a text.
Table 1lists all features used in this paper. Some features have been proposed by other works, but they
were never evaluated in a multi-language setup. Thus, we decided to include them in our feature
vector to investigate their applicability in scenarios with more than one language.
Table 1.
List of extracted features. There are three types of features: Complexity, Stylometric,
and Psychological. POS = part of speech; OOV = Out-Of-Vocabulary, ADJ = Adjectives, ADP =
Adposition, ADV = Adverbs, DET = Determiner, NOUN = Noun, PRON = Pronoun, PROPN =
Personal Pronouns, PUNCT = Punctuation, SYM = Synonyms and VERB = Verb.
No Type Name Description Reference
1Com plexity words_per_sents Average words per sentence [22,32]
2Com plexity avg_word_size Average word size [32,33]
3Com plexity sentences Count of sentences [34]
4Com plexity ttr Type-Token Ratio (lexical diversity) [32,35]
5Styl ometric pos_diversity_ratio POS-tag diversity Proposed
6Styl ometric entities_ratio Ratio of Named Entities to text size Proposed
7Styl ometric upper_case Uppercase letters [36]
8Styl ometric oov_ratio OOV words frequency Proposed
9Styl ometric quotes_count Quotation marks count [22]
10 Styl ometric quotes_ratio Ratio of quotation marks to text size Proposed
11 Styl ometric ratio_ADJ ADJ tag frequency [22]
12 Styl ometric ratio_ADP ADP tag frequency [22,32]
13 Styl ometric ratio_ADV ADV tag frequency [22]
14 Styl ometric ratio_DET DET tag frequency [22]
15 Styl ometric ratio_NOUN NOUN tag frequency [22,32]
16 Styl ometric ratio_PRON PRON tag frequency [22,32]
17 Styl ometric ratio_PROPN PROPN tag frequency [22]
18 Styl ometric ratio_PUNCT PUNCT tag frequency [22]
19 Styl ometric ratio_SYM SYM tag frequency [22]
20 Styl ometric ratio_VERB VERB tag frequency [22,32]
21 Psychol ogical polarity Sentiment polarity [22,36]
For Complexity features, documents were split into sentences and tokens through a tokenization
process. Thus, we can extract the average words per sentence, average word size and the total number
of sentences. Complexity metrics are inspired by readability indexes, such as Simple Measure of
Gobbledygook (SMOG) Grade [
37
] and Automated Readability Index [
38
], which use word and
sentence level measures to quantify a reading difficulty score. Type-Token Ratio (TTR) is also extracted
by counting the number of unique words divided by the total number of words, measuring the
vocabulary variation of the document. Those textual statistics are intended to help the characterization
of the complexity of differences between news classes. Word and sentence level features are explored
in the literature, as seen in Reference [8,22,24,32,33].
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 7 of 18
The Stylometric features take into account more advanced NLP techniques to extract grammatical
and semantic characteristics from the text. The Polyglot package was used as a Named Entity
Recognition (NER) [
39
] to detect named entities, counting recognized entities and their ratio to
total text size. A similar approach was proposed by Rubin et al. [
10
], but the authors used as a feature
to detect absurdity on news.
For POS-tagging, the spaCy package was used to label each token. The package has pretrained
models for a variety of languages, making it possible to extend this work to other languages. The tags
were used to extract a ratio of specific tags (e.g., VERB) to the total amount of tokens in the document.
From that, we can assess the POS-tag diversity, i.e., the ratio of different tags present on text to total
text size. Along with POS-tag features, the number of quotation marks and uppercase letters are
computed, as proposed in Reference [
22
]. Moreover, we proposed the usage quotation marks frequency
as a feature.
Furthermore, we proposed the usage of an Out-Of-Vocabulary (OOV) feature, which uses a
dictionary of words for a given language and counts the total words that are not found in this set and
their frequencies on the text. The hypothesis behind this feature is to capture neologisms, slangs or
other kinds of unusual words. To compute this feature, only the words tagged as adjectives, adverbs,
verbs, and nouns were considered. Some features were ignored due to its low variability on at least one
of the datasets (ratios of
AUX
,
CONJ
,
SCONJ
,
CCONJ
,
CONJ
,
PART
, and
INTJ
tags to text size). We disregard
those which standard deviation was close to zero as non-informative features.
The sentiment polarity was extracted using Polyglot [
40
], a Python package which implements
multi-language sentiment lexicon, as described by Chen and Steven [
41
]. The package implements
sentiment polarity extraction for several languages, including the ones evaluated in this study, which
makes it possible to extend the application to other languages.
Therefore, the proposed language-independent features were carefully crafted to represent textual
characteristics from several perspectives. Such a plural feature vector, as described in Section 3.3,
supports the induction of ML models, which then perform the Classification step (3). The outcome of
the pipeline is the decision result, which assigns one of the three classes, legitimate, satirical or fake,
to a news article.
3.2. News Datasets
The experiments conducted in this study include documents originally written in American
English (EN), Brazilian Portuguese (PT), and Spanish (ES). For that, we created a corpus composed of
news articles proposed in other works and complemented them when necessary. Na
mely, we us
ed:
the corpus of Horne and Adali [
22
] for EN news; the Fake.Br corpus [
24
] for PT news; and the
FakeNewsCorpusSpanish corpus [
25
] for ES news. Note that Reference [
24
,
25
] used only fake and
legitimate classes, without considering the satirical class.
As the original corpora had an uneven distribution of classes (fake, satirical, and legitimate),
we augmented them in an effort to standardize the news collection used in our experiments. To achieve
this goal, we increased the number of samples by adding documents extracted from the Fake News
Corpus (FNC) FNC is an open source dataset composed of millions of news articles collected on
OpenSources ), a list of credible and non-credible online sources. The list uses several tags to label
documents. We considered documents tagged as Fake News,Satire, and Credible categories, which
correspond to fake, satirical, and legitimate classes, respectively. Moreover, FNC contain news articles
written in both ES and EN. To detect the language employed in the document, we used the Python
package whatthelang [42].
Since the FakeNewsCorpusSpanish lacks satirical news, we complemented this collection with
FNC samples. For that, we selected ES samples with the Satire label from FNC. Regarding the EN
collection, the corpus from Reference [
22
] consists of only 326 documents. To complement it, FNC
documents of Fake News,Satire, and Credible were added to the EN corpus. The FNC does not include
news written in PT. Thus, to overcome this gap, following the collecting method in Reference [
26
],
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 8 of 18
we extracted news from two widely known Brazilian satirical portals: Sensacionalista and Diário
Pernambucano. Therefore, the corpora used our work is backed both by literature and open source
community datasets.
Lastly, due to classes imbalance, sampling was made in order to keep the same number of
documents for each class in order to avoid the class imbalance problem [
43
,
44
]. The experimentation
was carried out using 9930 news articles split into three datasets grouped by language. As shown on
Table 2, the EN corpus contains 2043 samples of each class, for a total of 6129 documents, while the PT
corpus contains 846 samples of each class, totaling 2538 documents, and ES contains 421 samples for
each class and 1263 in total. The EN corpus has 4,432,906 tokens, of which 94,496 are unique (2.1%),
and an average of 723 tokens per document. While the PT corpus contains 1,246,924 tokens, of which
58,129 are unique (4.6%), with an average of 491 tokens per document. Lastly, the ES corpus contains
a total of 459,406 tokens with 40,891 of them being unique (8.9%), with an average of 364 tokens per
document. Table 3shows examples for each class on each language.
Table 2.
Corpora information summarising characteristics for English, Portuguese, and Spanish
datasets. FNC = Fake News Corpus.
Corpus Samples Samples per Class Tokens Unique Tokens References
English (EN) 6129 2043 4,432,906 94,496 [22], FNC
Portuguese (PT) 2538 846 1,246,924 58,129 [24], Sensacionalista, Diário Pernambucano
Spanish (ES) 1263 421 459,406 40,891 [25], FNC
Table 3. Examples of news content for all classes of each language.
Language Class Content
EN
fake
“Voters on the right have been waiting for this for a long time! Police have finally
raided a Democratic strategic headquarters, and the results are devastating! (. .. )”
legitimate
“The search warrant that authorized the FBI to examine a laptop in connection with
Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email (. . .)”
satirical
“NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) Speaking to reporters late Friday night,
President-elect Donald Trump revealed that he had Googled Obamacare for the first
time earlier in the day. (. .. )”
ES
fake
“La Universidad de Oxford da más tiempo a las mujeres para hacer los exámenes
(. . . )”
legitimate
“El PSOE reactiva el debate sobre la eutanasia El partido del Gobierno llevará su
propuesta para regularla al Pleno la próxima semana y cree que saldrá adelante
(. . . )”
satirical
“Mucha euforia ha generado el gran lanzamiento del nuevo reality colombiano
"Yo me abro" que se estrena hoy y en el que los participantes demostrarán sus
habilidades para escapar de la justicia colombiana. (. .. )”
PT
fake
“Ministro que pediu demissão do governo Temer explica o motivo: “Não faço
maracutaias. Não tenho rabo preso” (. .. )”
legitimate “Governo federal decide decretar intervenção na segurança pública do RJ. Decreto
será publicado nesta sexta-feira (16), segundo o presidente do Senado, Eunício
Oliveira. Decisão foi tomada em meio à escalada de violência na capital carioca.
(. . . )”
satirical
“A senadora Kátia Abreu é uma mulher que não tira o corpo fora de polêmicas. Ela
dá uma tora de árvore para não entrar numa briga mas derruba uma floresta inteira
pelo prazer de não sair. (. . .)”
The complete dataset is made publicly available for other researchers and practitione
(http://www.uel.br/grupo-pesquisa/remid/?page_id=145).
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 9 of 18
3.3. Classification Algorithms
In order to explore the best classification model, different ML approaches were evaluated:
k-Nearest Neighbors (k-NN) [
45
], Support Vector Machine (SVM) [
45
], Random Forest (RF) [
46
],
and Extreme Gradient Boosting (XGB) [
47
]. These algorithms were selected due to high predictive
performance and broad use in related papers. Linear SVMs were used in Reference [
22
,
24
,
25
], while
k-NN was used in Reference [
48
]. Considering ensemble methods, RF and XGB were evaluated in
Reference [24,49,50].
Most hyperparameters were kept with default values for the used implementation, which were
scikit-learn
[
51
] and
xgboost
[
47
] Python packages. Only the indispensable hyperparameters were
chosen, such as kfor k-NN and the kernel of SVM. For k-NN, the kvalue was set to 10 after an
exhaustive grid search [
52
], while the distance metric was kept as the default Euclidean distance.
On SVM, a linear kernel was used to evaluate the linear separability of the samples, and the other
hyperparameters were kept with default values. Moreover, for RF and XGB models, where both
algorithms make use of an ensemble approach, the number of subtrees that the model generates was
set to 500 to get stable results.
After extracting the feature vectors and removing the outliers, the four classification algorithms
were tested through a k-fold cross-validation. This process consists in randomly splitting the dataset
into kgroups, holding out the first group for validation, and fitting the model on remaining
k
1
set [
53
]. A
k=
5 was used, so for each iteration, 80% of the randomly sampled dataset was used
for training and 20% for validation. This process was repeated 20 times, totaling 100 results for
each algorithm.
4. Analysis and Discussions
The first analysis was conducted to evaluate our hypothesis that language-independent features
could be used to identify fake, satirical and legitimate news. With this goal, we applied the Principal
Component Analysis (PCA) [
54
] dimensionality reduction technique for visualization purposes.
This way, we can evaluate how well the proposed features model each class behavior. Figure 2
illustrates news articles distribution over a two-dimensional feature space, projected by components
1 and 2 from PCA. The projection exposes a particular behavior onto all languages, where Principal
Component 1 (more than 20.00% variance explained) reflected a tendency of separation among the
classes, as expected. The clearest separation between classes is observed in PT news articles, as seen
in Figure 2b. On the other hand, EN news distribution has more overlaps (Figure 2a), followed
by Spanish news (Figure 2c), i.e., the separation between classes is less straight forward. For all
three languages, the legitimate class is positioned on the positive side of the X-axis, indicating that
there is similarity in classes distribution over different languages. Fake and satirical classes were
positioned on the left of the chart in all plots, with satirical samples being less scattered than fake ones.
Although fake and satirical classes appear to have a more difficult distinction, it is remarkable that
their position on the feature space is similar across sets. This analysis confirms the hypothesis that
our language-independent features can model news behavior from different languages. PCA results
corroborated with our conjecture towards the use of ML models to detect news intent between fake,
satirical and legitimate classes.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 10 of 18
(a) English (b) Portuguese (c) Spanish
Figure 2.
Two-dimensional plot of Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of three datasets showing the
distribution of classes on a lower dimensional vector space.
The models’ accuracies are plotted through boxplots on Figure 3, showing the distribution of
results with the central tendency being the median. The results show that k-NN was the worst
algorithm regarding predictive power, with a mean accuracy of 75% (EN), 89% (PT), and 75% (ES).
The ensemble algorithms, RF and XGB, achieved similar and stable results, with RF reaching 79.9%
(EN), 93.9% (PT), and 82% (ES); and XGB achieving 80.3% (EN), 94.7% (PT), and 82% (ES). SVM had
the second worst predictive performance on EN (79%), the best performance on PT (95%) while tying
with ensemble algorithms on ES (82%). Results indicate that PT and ES collections have more linear
separability comparing to EN, with a slightly more linear behavior on PT.
Figure 3.
Results of cross-validation for each algorithm (k-Nearest Neighbors (k-NN), Support Vector
Machine (SVM), Random Forest (RF), and Extreme Gradient Boosting (XGB)) showing accuracy
distribution for all three datasets (English, Portuguese, and Spanish).
The good predictive performance achieved by all algorithms demonstrates that the
language-independent features and pipeline proposed in this study are efficient to identify fake,
legitimate, and satirical news. Since the three classes are balanced on all datasets, the baseline
classification accuracy is 33%. Therefore, when using the set of features proposed in this paper,
the average accuracy of models reaches 84%, 2.5 times better than the baseline.
To compare the models induced by the algorithms and evaluate which algorithm generated
the best models, we employed the Friedman Statistical Test (FST). FST is a statistical test that ranks
multiple methods over several datasets, as described in Demšar [
55
]. In FST, the null hypothesis to
be tested is that all algorithms performed equally well, i.e., whether there is a significant difference
among the results. If the null-hypothesis is rejected, the Nemenyi post-hoc test is used to compare the
classifiers, and their performances are considered significantly different if the corresponding average
ranks differ by a Critical Difference (CD) metric. For this study we use a confidence level of α=0.05.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 11 of 18
Figure 4presents the Nemenyi post-hoc test, showing that RF was the best performing algorithm,
followed by XGB and SVM. However, the distances within these algorithms are less than the CD.
Thus, statistically speaking, the algorithms have similar performances, which is on pair with the results
shown in Figure 3. Differently, the classifiers generated by k-NN presented a distance higher than the
CD when compared to both RF and XGB, meaning that it was the worst performing algorithm from
the set. However, note that k-NN performance does not differ statistically from the SVM. The random
baseline (RND) was also included in the test, which shows that all classifiers being tested had a
statistically better performance comparing to the baseline. This analysis also confirms the power of
language-independent features as news descriptors, as the high predictive performances do not rely
on classifiers capabilities but on the features quality.
CD = 0.90933
01 2 34
RF
XGB
RND
k-NN (k=10)
SVM
Figure 4.
Comparison of all classifiers against each other with the Nemenyi test considering its accuracy
results. The connected group of classifiers are not significantly different (at α=0.05).
Regarding performance by class, Figure 5presents the normalized confusion matrix summing
results from the cross-validation process. The matrices show the percentage of a predicted label versus
the true label of samples, indicating the behavior of classifiers for each class. Thus, it is possible to
identify the most challenging type of news to be detected.
From results, it is clear that fake documents are the most difficult to identify. This is reasonable
since the fake class is overlaid by other classes and is very scattered, especially on EN and ES dataset,
as seen on PCA feature space in Figure 2. This may be explained by the deceptive nature of fake news,
where the intention is to make the content look like a legitimate article. In this context, for both EN
and ES datasets, fake was mostly misclassified as legitimate, highlighting the deceiving characteristic
of fake news. Contrarily, in the PT dataset, fake was mainly misclassified as satirical.
The legitimate class was the second most accurate on all corpora, being mostly mistaken as a fake
in all three languages. This can be explained by the similarity between both classes. Moreover, a fake
document main goal is to simulate a legitimate behavior, which deceives models in this direction.
When looking at the PCA feature space, both classes share a similar scattered space, making the models
misclassify a sample as belonging to another class.
Figure 5also shows that the satirical class was the most easily separable from the others. This result
is on pair with PCA in Figure 2, where the samples from this class are on a denser area, i.e., they
are closely grouped in the feature space. Satirical news was misclassified almost equally as fake and
legitimate by the classifiers on EN and PT, with a tendency to be predicted as fake on ES corpus.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 12 of 18
(a) English (b) Portuguese (c) Spanish
Figure 5.
Normalized confusion matrices comparing the true label of samples with the predicted label
along the cross-validation process. The matrices indicates the class that was most wrongly predicted by
models and the class which models was mistakenly towards to predict.
When comparing with the other studies, the present work achieved either the same or higher
results regarding performance on detecting fake, legitimate, and satirical news. In Horne and Adali [
22
],
the results are evaluated with all combinations of classes (fake vs. real, satire vs. real and satire vs. fake),
reaching between 71% and 91% accuracy scores, depending on the combination, which is relatable
with the 80% we achieved on EN dataset. However, the authors do not consider a multi-language
scenario. The works of Monteiro et al. [
24
] and Posadas-Durán et al. [
25
] achieve a maximum accuracy
of 89% and 77%, respectively, on binary classifications (fake and legitimate). Our method improves
previous studies by achieving 95% and 82% accuracies with three classes of news (fake, legitimate,
and satirical).
It is important to highlight that Monteiro et al. [
24
] tested both content specific features, like
Bag-of-Words and stylometric features. Posadas-Durán et al. [
25
] used only Bag-of-Words and POS-tag
n-grams, which differs from the approach of language-independent features we proposed. However,
our results using stylometric features achieved better performance in predicting news classes in
comparison to both works, indicating that the language-independent approach we presented may lead
to better modelling of the problem of fake news detection.
To understand the importance of language-independent features used, FST was conducted
to compare the feature sets for all languages:
Com plexity
,
Styl ometric
, and
Psychological
.
Each combination within the three feature sets was analyzed, totaling 6 possible combinations for each
of the 3 languages. The best performing algorithm from the former analysis (RF) was used to induct
the models, ranking the performance by class using the F1-score metric.
The results presented in Figure 6shows that the combination
Com plexity +Stylometric
features
had the best performance, followed closely by the combination of all features. Next, without statistical
difference from the first two, is the set of
Styl ometric +Psychological
features, which had no
statistical difference from using only
Styl ometric
features. The
Com plexity
set and the
Com plexity +
Psychological
combination come next, with a statistically significant difference from the others.
The
Psychological
feature set was the least performing one with statistical difference from all other sets.
CD = 0.60041
01 2 345 6
Com plexit y +Stylome tric
Com plexit y +Stylome tric +Psycho lo gica l
Styl ometric +Psychol ogi cal
Psych olo gica l
Com plexit y +Psychol ogical
Com ple xity
Styl ometr ic
Figure 6. Nemenyi post hoc test for all feature category combinations.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 13 of 18
While the
Com plexity +Styl ometric
and
Com plexity +Styl ometric +Psycholo gical
are tied in the
first place, with no significant difference because they are within the Critical Difference, it is possible to
discard the Psychological set in this situation, considering that removing features makes the problem
modelling less complex. The
Com plexity
set demonstrated a good predictive power when combined
with
Styl ometric
, but using the set alone or with
Psychological
does not improve the performance of
the model significantly.
Going even further, considering just the
Styl ometric
set of features is not enough to solve the
problem, using only 16 of the 21 features the model can still perform the same as
Styl ometric +
Psychological
, which do not differ significantly from
Com plexity +Stylometric
and
Com plexity +
Styl ometric +Psychological
. The
Psychological
feature demonstrated a low predictive contribution,
probably because we used only one feature of this category in this work. Different than Horne
and Adali [
22
], which used dictionary features in this category (e.g., the number of analytic words)
we focused on features that could be assessed by all languages evaluated, thus, considering that
some languages have fewer resources than others [
56
], we used the polarity feature which is widely
available [40].
Table 4exposes the average numerical value of each feature for each class grouped by corpus.
Therefore, by analyzing the central tendency for each class through all corpora, we can discuss patterns
that are present across languages, e.g., if some feature happens to have a higher value for legitimate,
followed by fake and satirical for all corpora. A similar discussion is also made in Horne and Adali [
22
]
and Gruppi et al. [29].
Table 4.
Average values of all features grouped by class and by language corpus, in alphabetical order.
EN PT ES
Fake Legitimate Satire Fake Legitimate Satire Fake Legitimate Satire
avg_word_size 4.40 4.30 4.18 4.14 4.28 4.38 4.30 4.35 4.40
entities_ratio 0.007 0.008 0.009 0.013 0.011 0.009 0.008 0.009 0.005
oov_ratio 0.100 0.094 0.009 0.062 0.050 0.079 0.023 0.019 0.036
polarity 0.011 0.075 0.010 0.262 0.303 0.245 0.411 0.388 0.299
pos_diversity_ratio 0.09 0.05 0.07 0.44 0.22 0.50 0.21 0.15 0.20
quotes_count 8.14 23.43 7.26 5.00 6.80 6.06 5.29 8.90 0.01
quotes_ratio 0.002 0.004 0.003 0.003 0.002 0.003 0.005 0.001 0.000
ratio_ADJ 0.078 0.082 0.081 0.055 0.057 0.065 0.041 0.044 0.045
ratio_ADP 0.101 0.112 0.110 0.121 0.140 0.128 0.144 0.155 0.153
ratio_ADV 0.042 0.045 0.049 0.039 0.028 0.036 0.038 0.037 0.051
ratio_DET 0.078 0.082 0.089 0.101 0.105 0.111 0.123 0.125 0.130
ratio_NOUN 0.185 0.178 0.175 0.168 0.174 0.193 0.164 0.180 0.173
ratio_PRON 0.028 0.029 0.031 0.053 0.039 0.053 0.034 0.034 0.041
ratio_PROPN 0.11 0.10 0.10 0.11 0.10 0.09 0.08 0.11 0.06
ratio_PUNCT 0.124 0.128 0.109 0.102 0.101 0.103 0.149 0.137 0.132
ratio_SYM 0.003 0.001 0.004 0.011 0.012 0.011 0.012 0.026 0.001
ratio_VERB 0.149 0.152 0.160 0.095 0.078 0.088 0.126 0.117 0.139
sentences 34.0 49.9 25.1 10.3 17.2 12.0 13.2 67.3 8.1
ttr 0.522 0.439 0.491 0.596 0.412 0.669 0.532 0.457 0.562
upper_case 132 199 90 66 126 31 41 212 28
words_per_sents 19.7 25.1 22.7 17.9 20.6 27.5 37.9 36.6 31.0
The following features present the same pattern on all three corpus:
ratio_ADP
,
ratio_DET
and
upper_case
. These features have the same order of average value by class regardless of the language
being evaluated. That is, the class with the highest value for a feature, the second and the last one are
the same, maintaining the order, on all corpus in this work. For example, for the
upper_case
feature,
the order of legitimate >f ak e >satire is maintained on all three corpora being analyzed.
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 14 of 18
The Type-Token Ratio (TTR) values on all three corpora are lower for legitimate news, followed
by fake or satirical. Since TTR measures the lexical diversity of text vocabulary, this may lead to the
belief that legitimate news has a poorer vocabulary. However, we must consider that morphological
complexity may change depending on the language, where languages with greater complexity may
affect the result obtained in TTR. Nonetheless, in this case, this is probably due to the size of the text,
because fake and satirical news tends to be smaller on all corpora. For all three corpora, the same
behavior was observed in all types of news, meaning that language complexity did not affect analysis.
An analogous phenomenon was observed in both Reference [22,24].
Some other features are noteworthy due to the pattern found in PT and ES corpora, which may
be explained by similarities between these languages [
57
]. The average word size (
avg_word_size
) is
an example of this pattern. On EN the highest values are from the fake class, followed by legitimate
and satirical classes, but the behavior is reversed on PT and ES. The ratio of OOV words (
oov_ratio
)
follows the order
f ake >legitimate >satire
on EN, but
satire >f ake >legitimate
on PT and ES.
Similar patterns are also found on ratio_ADJ and ratio_SYM features.
Finally, regarding the proposed features, i.e.,
pos_diversity_ratio
,
quotes_ratio
,
oov_ratio
,
and
entities_ratio
, it is important to mention their importance ranking as 1st, 6th, 9th, and 11th
positions, respectively, as Figure 7shows. The high placement in this rank means that they
actively affect the predictive performance, showing that our proposed features are decisive in a
multi-language scenario.
Figure 7.
Features sorted by their normalized importance computed using RF importance. Proposed
features are highlighted in bold.
5. Conclusions
The identification of deceptive news is required due to the increase of news consumption
through OSM, which provides unruled content broadcasting. Moreover, the spreading speed in
OSM requires an automated method to accomplish the detection task. In this paper, we presented a
comparison of language-independent features of stylometric, complexity, and psychological types in a
multi-language scenario. Furthermore, we proposed stylometric features to improve the identification
of satirical, legitimate and fake news articles over three different languages: American English,
Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish. The first contribution of this paper is the creation of a curated
Future Internet 2020,12, 87 15 of 18
multi-language corpora composed of news articles from three different classes. Moreover, we made
this corpus available for other researchers and practitioners.
To detect news intent, we presented a text processing pipeline under content-based premises.
The preprocessing stage is composed of filtering, cleaning and noise removal phases. Then,
Com plexity
,
Styl ometric
, and
Psychological
features are extracted from textual data. Moreover, feature importance
was explored toward supporting a suitable predictive ML model using 9930 news articles. Support
Vector Machine (SVM),
k
-Nearest Neighbors (
k
-NN), Random Forest (RF), and Extreme Gradient
Boosting (XGB) were compared to recommend one that best fit the detection model.
The RF algorithm reached the highest performance, achieving an average accuracy of 85.3%,
followed closely by XGB and SVM, with no statistical difference. The overall performance of ML
models indicates that purely stylometric features, including the proposed POS-tag diversity, the ratio of
named entities to text size, the ratio of quotation marks to text size, and the OOV words frequency, were
capable of enhancing the predictive outcomes, being statistically superior to the other compositions
with RF, XGB, and SVM as the most predictive algorithms.
Besides that, the shared pattern between the studied languages suggests there is an underlying
behavior among different languages, which can support fake news detection over several idioms
beyond those explored in this work.
For future works, we will evaluate transfer learning strategies, using pre-trained models to extract
more abstract features, such as semantic level characteristics. Either pre-trained word embeddings can
be assessed using the multi-language corpora assembled in this paper.
Author Contributions:
All the authors contributed equally to this work. All authors have read and agreed to the
published version of the manuscript.
Funding:
This study was financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior
- Brasil (CAPES) - Finance Code 001, Coordination for the National Council for Scientific and Technological
Development (CNPq) of Brazil - Grant of Project 420562/2018-4 and Fundação Araucária (Paraná, Brazil).
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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... The corpus aims to support undergraduate and graduate students develop their academic production. Abonizio et al. (2020) derived a new corpus for pre-existing ones containing news in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Their corpus aims to support fake news detection. ...
... From the news collection perspective, one of the main aspects to consider is the spread of misinformation through fake news (Abonizio et al. 2020). In terms of cybercrime, cybersecurity, and information security, there is the prospect that the propagation of fake news itself is a public security problem, capable of moving masses of people and causing socially harmful events (Mughaid et al. 2022, Espaliú-Berdud 2022. ...
... In the process adopted by the study reported here, we chose to search and retrieve news directly on the site from a reliable source to avoid including non-authentic news, potentially disseminating misinformation. Some frameworks, such as those proposed by Abonizio et al. (2020), Faustini and Covões (2020), and Silva et al. (2020), are capable of filtering fake news with good levels of accuracy, representing necessary instruments for public security authorities to act to detect and contain misinformation sources. ...
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Purpose This article presents two Brazilian Portuguese corpora collected from different media concerning public security issues in a specific location. The primary motivation is supporting analyses, so security authorities can make appropriate decisions about their actions. Design/methodology/approach The corpora were obtained through web scraping from a newspaper's website and tweets from a Brazilian metropolitan region. Natural language processing was applied considering: text cleaning, lemmatization, summarization, part-of-speech and dependencies parsing, named entities recognition, and topic modeling. Findings Several results were obtained based on the methodology used, highlighting some: an example of a summarization using an automated process; dependency parsing; the most common topics in each corpus; the forty named entities and the most common slogans were extracted, highlighting those linked to public security. Research limitations/implications Some critical tasks were identified for the research perspective, related to the applied methodology: the treatment of noise from obtaining news on their source websites, passing through textual elements quite present in social network posts such as abbreviations, emojis/emoticons, and even writing errors; the treatment of subjectivity, to eliminate noise from irony and sarcasm; the search for authentic news of issues within the target domain. All these tasks aim to improve the process to enable interested authorities to perform accurate analyses. Practical implications The corpora dedicated to the public security domain enable several analyses, such as mining public opinion on security actions in a given location; understanding criminals' behaviors reported in the news or even on social networks and drawing their attitudes timeline; detecting movements that may cause damage to public property and people welfare through texts from social networks; extracting the history and repercussions of police actions, crossing news with records on social networks; among many other possibilities. Originality/value The work on behalf of the corpora reported in this text represents one of the first initiatives to create textual bases in Portuguese, dedicated to Brazil's specific public security domain.
... Fake news is being generated and disseminated at a staggering rate. Social media enables rapid news dissemination and lowers barriers to reach a broad audience (Abonizio et al., 2020), yet it also contributes to the proliferation of fake news. Fake news has the potential to influence political outcomes, lure consumers into deceptive marketing schemes, defame business firms or celebrities, and mislead the public into making wrong decisions (Akhter et al., 2021). ...
... Given that culture, language, political views, and religion may influence the way that news is generated, perceived, and disseminated, it is important to understand the characteristics of fake news in different languages. Despite that a few studies have explored the detection of fake news in multiple languages (Abonizio et al., 2020;Faustini & Covões, 2020), they have focused on developing languageindependent detection models rather than understanding the characteristics of fake news in a multi-lingual setting. In addition, current development of fake news detection models has primarily drawn on lexical and stylometric features from news content while giving little attention to semantic features. ...
... With an increasing recognition of the importance of studying fake news in non-English languages, scholars have made some efforts to collect fake news datasets in various languages (e.g., Abonizio et al., 2020;Kishore Shahi & Nandini, 2020;Posadas-Durán et al., 2019;Yang et al., 2021). For instance, FIRE (Forum for Information Retrieval Evaluation) hosted the first shared task focusing on fake news detection in the Urdu language in 2020 (Amjad et al., 2020). ...
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Fake news is being generated in different languages, yet existing studies are dominated by English news. The analysis of fake news content has focused on lexical and stylometric features, giving little attention to semantic features. A few studies involving semantic features have either used them as the inputs to classifiers with no interpretations, or treated them in isolation. This research aims to investigate both thematic and emotional characteristics of fake news at different levels and compare them between different languages for the first time. It extends a state-of-the-art topic modeling technique to extract news topics and introduces a divergence measure to assess the importance of thematic characteristics for identifying fake news. We further examine associations of the thematic and emotional characteristics of fake news. The empirical findings have implications for developing both general and language-specific countermeasures for fake news.
... The term fake news has been used in different ways, in this paper we consider the following definition, proposed in [28,1]: "fake news are news published by a media outlet, which includes: claims, statements, speeches, publications, among other types of information and its authenticity is not verifiable (false)". ...
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